UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Ten Ways That Weed Evolution Defies Human Management Efforts Amidst a Changing Climate Clements, David R.; Jones, Vanessa L.


The ability of weeds to evolve is key to their success, and the relationship between weeds and humans is marked by co-evolution going back to the agricultural revolution, with weeds evolving to counter human management actions. In recent years, climate change has emerged as yet another selection pressure imposed on weeds by humans, and weeds are likewise very capable of adapting to this latest stress of human origin. This review summarizes 10 ways this adaptation occurs: (1) general-purpose genotypes, (2) life history strategies, (3) ability to evolve rapidly, (4) epigenetic capacity, (5) hybridization, (6) herbicide resistance, (7) herbicide tolerance, (8) cropping systems vulnerability, (9) co-evolution of weeds with human management, and (10) the ability of weeds to ride the climate storm humans have generated. As pioneer species ecologically, these 10 ways enable weeds to adapt to the numerous impacts of climate change, including warming temperatures, elevated CO2, frequent droughts and extreme weather events. We conclude that although these 10 ways present formidable challenges for weed management, the novelty arising from weed evolution could be used creatively to prospect for genetic material to be used in crop improvement, and to develop a more holistic means of managing agroecosystems.

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